Thinking about Gifts, Christ, and Covetousness
I’ve often wondered if the position of inerrancy and/or infallibility is more the child of the Enlightenment’s scientific accuracy rather than that of Scripture itself. For instance, doesn’t the fact that there are four Gospels that differ in some ways in the way they tell the same event an affirmation of the need for variation in our theory of inspiration? Shouldn’t infallibility be configured to the Gospels’ form rather than making the Gospels fit Enlightenment scientific accuracy? For instance, there is a number of ways to convey the same idea in differ styles: in prose, a poem, in song, in hymns, and so forth. This is a principle I call “referential identity.” What is referred to is the same although how it is referred to differs. For instance, the Gospel of Matthew brings out Jesus’ divinity by focusing on Jesus’ davidic kingship while the Gospel of Luke brings out Jesus’ divinity by focusing on Jesus’ servant status as conveyed in the Servant Songs in Isaiah. In both Matthew and Luke, they are appealing to OT texts that suggest or teach the divinity of the “everlasting king” or the inconceivable praise and honor given to the “Servant” in the latter books of Isaiah. Both Matthew and Luke refer their readers to the fact that Jesus is divine but they get there in different ways: referential identity but differing in style.
There are a number of additions to the biblical text that my questioner asked about that led to these posts: she notes the addition of the adulterous woman in John. Although I intend to concede that this is an addition, the textual traditions that have come down to us (Byzantine, Western, Alexandrian) can be argued to show the potential inclusion of the adulterous woman story as proper and original to John. Textual criticism is the science of getting at the original texts of the NT, if possible: textual criticism is immensely complex, so we should hold our findings from it as preliminary, that is, we should always be ready to revise those findings in light of new evidence. I think the reason for overlooking and failing to discuss so-called inclusions (like the adulterous woman narrative) is the result of elitism and, in some sense, potential ignorance. Pastors, who are largely responsible for educating church people, never want to cause their sheep to stumble by raising doubt about the biblical text although they know about it. For instance, I oversee a house church, but I never intend to mislead them on these matters; I hope that we can discuss those issues as candidly as I am here. Google and Bing have made it impossible, as a church leader in any measure, to champion belief statements that any parishioner can check for its truth or falsity by typing just a few words on their smart phone during the teaching. No doubt, we sound “sooo faithful” when we make these statements from the pulpit (or elsewhere) despite evidence to the contrary, but we make ourselves the enemy of truth in the process. Faith statements of this sort cost us our integrity and, consequently, credibility with those who care about truth; you know its bad when the world can accurately claim the church to be “blind to the truth.” For those teachers and preachers who willingly and intentionally withhold the truth of textual difficulties in the Scripture for the good of their sheep, they can be called elites. Elitism is the sickness of supposing that the truth that you know cannot be handled by others of similar stature — e.g., children are not of similar stature with their parents so it might be valid to withhold certain things from them. An elite will think something like this, “They won’t be able to handle it,” implying that the elitist can. Such elitism is often justified based on looking out for the sheep, which is utilitarian ethics — the ends justify the means. In this case, an elitist pastor withholds truth (the means) to achieve the ongoing belief of the sheep (the end). What is strange is that the Spirit is the Leader of the Church and Christ is the Pastor while all other pretenders to such titles are really just sheep as well: there is only one Teacher, the Christ. The Spirit is called the Spirit of Truth, so should we dismiss the way Scripture has come down to us by misrepresenting how the Spirit presumably brought it down through history? Do we know better than the Spirit of God? Do we distrust Him? Can we mislead the people of God about variation in Scriptural manuscripts and still claim that we are of God? Shouldn’t the world condemn such deception by church leaders, even if done with the best intentions — good intentions have often led to many horrors in world history. It is never enough to have good intentions when the actions that issue forth from such intentions are evil or cause evil. To want the faithful to continue in their faith by lying about the content of Scriptural transmission seems patently atrocious, a ruse even rogues would be proud of.
When considering the inspiration and “God-ness” of the Bible, bear in mind that accounting for the human side of the inspiration/preservation process is not a denial of the divine origin of the content of Scripture. Rather, maintaining some measure of proportionality between the divine and human nature of the text is “an accounting for how the Bible is God’s word,” not a denial of it. What we have to get at is how Scripture is both a divine Word (from God) and a human Word (through man in history). The danger of affirming Scripture as God’s Word without accounting for the human side is that it denies God’s own choice and activity in how God delivered His Word to man. The scope of our theory of inspiration must be about to discuss and unpack (to some degree) how the biblical authors are not only chosen to write but are also prepared for that task. If we don’t do this, we will end up affirming a theory that is unhappily dictation-like: God just takes them over and those humans end up becoming nothing more than a pen. It is problematic to hold such a view because the biblical data is not represented in any substantial way. For instance, Jeremiah curses the day he was born and wishes that the man who brought the news to his father would be cursed as well (Jer. 20:14 – 15). If we say that Jeremiah is only a pen, then how are we to attribute these words to the Spirit? If, however, we can include God’s preparatory work of the authors — not divesting them of their words — then we can attribute these words to Jeremiah as expressing His ongoing relation to God the Spirit in and through such turmoil. These words only arise in the way they do because Jeremiah is taking his responses and cues from God in his relationship with God. In this way, we might be able to find a way forward in explaining how those words are God’s word instead of just vainly saying that those words are God’s word (denying any contribution from Jeremiah) without any clear way how that could be the case. God does not drop the Bible from heaven, but He does give it in and through the historical conditions man is subject to. This is God’s choice, and we have to honor it. As pious as it sounds to affirm Scripture as God’s word while denying or disregarding its human characteristics and limitations is actually a heresy called “Docetic Bibliology,” which means something like “only a divine Bible.” Docetism is the ancient heresy of the denial of the humanity of Jesus; Jesus is both God and man, not one or the other and not a mixture of the two. The same heresy occurs when we deny the humanity of Scripture. If we take Christ as our precedent who was 100% man and 100% God — and I believe we should — then we should formulate Scripture in a similar way: it is divine, delivered through historical processes proper to humanity. It may be one of the sad facts of our contemporary situation that the conservative Christians are practically docetic in their understanding of both Christ and the Bible (only 100% divine) with little regard for the humanity while more liberal Christians are happy to hold to the 100% humanity of both Jesus and the Bible forgetting its divine side (heresy of Samosasta). Both are heresies and subtle denials of how God has manifested Himself to us by virtue of Scripture and the Spirit who enables us to take Scripture to heart.
There are three ways I’ve heard this can be answered. First, the Blaspheming of the Spirit could be something only those witnessing Jesus’ earthly ministry are capable of committing. The incarnation is the unique presentation of God through Jesus, and, as such, is unrepeatable; further, the Holy Spirit led Jesus, worked in Jesus, and testified to men through and in Jesus’ earthly healing ministry. Those witnessing Jesus’ life during this time were in an incredible position of benefit because they could see the presentation of the Father in the Son and also see the work of the Spirit with Jesus while the Spirit Himself was trying to persuade those witnessing these mighty works. We are not in the same position as those who originally saw Jesus’ works while He was incarnated; they had immediate access with their very eyes, but we have mediate access through the testimony of the apostles.
Second, the Blaspheming of the Spirit could be disbelieving in Jesus, period, no matter when you live. There is a principle in theology that is based on Scripture: God is known only through God. Hence, only the Father is known through the Spirit, or only the Father is known through the Son in the Spirit. The point is that Scripture is united in the affirmation that it takes God to know God. Since the principle ministry of the Spirit is to testify to the divinity, message, and work of Jesus (the Son), to blaspheme the Spirit is to deny the only access one has to being restored to God. There is no other access to salvation but by one Man and in one Spirit. To blaspheme means to disrespect or to profane, that is, to discredit what is sacred of its sanctity; but it is the Spirit’s holiness/sanctity that makes Him capable of uniting humanity to God because only God is holy. Therefore, to blaspheme the Spirit is, to one’s own mind, to deny the Spirit the very dignity (being holy) that is central to the Spirit’s work of uniting someone to God. To blaspheme the Spirit is to rob Him of the very quality that could unite us to God: because God can only be known through God, that is, the Holy One can only be known through the Holy Spirit.
Lastly, the original blaspheming of the Spirit was the accusation that what the Spirit was doing in Jesus in terms of the miracles was actually being done by demons. Since the Spirit can do miracles today, if we attribute those miracles to demons, then we are in danger of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. This is perhaps the most frightening of the three because Scripture teaches that demons can do miracles and because the recent charismatic movement’s focus on miracles, which has been criticized by many non-charismatic Christians: John MacAuthur comes to mind immediately. This option is also one that many more could commit even if supposedly saved.
I have not quite landed on an option yet, but I have been giving serious thought about the third because of the threat it could pose my soul.
Continuing on from the last post on Origen’s views, what can we say about truth? There are three criteria by which to judge whether something is true or not: 1) does a statement match the facts, 2) does a statement cohere with a web of other known truths or person’s characteristics, and 3) does the statement produce the results which it promises? These there criteria are called, respectively, 1) correspondence theory of truth, 2) coherence theory of truth, and 3) pragmatic theory of truth. Most Enlightenment thinkers, or those of us today influenced by modernism, focus on 1) often to the exclusion of the other two. Postmodern thinkers will tend to focus on 2). Those involved in the physical sciences will frequently focus on 3). Most will think in terms of the old adage, “Just the facts,” concluding that if a statement does’t match what actually happened, then it isn’t true. If this is you, then please be aware that this is to reduce truth down to just one theory of truth. I can’t see any reason to opt for solely one theory; I prefer to see the truth as a tri-dimensional reality because of my belief in God the Trinity. Therefore, the truthfulness of some statement need not be judged merely according to 1), but, instead, I argue that we should be discerning to the context in which we hear a statement to judge it according to the emphasis on 1), 2), or 3) that the context suggests.
Imagine with me for the moment that you have done something inconsistent with your character, say lie, and your significant other knows that you are taking this inconsistency really hard. He/she might say to you in order to console you, “That wasn’t true to who are you; that wasn’t really you!” Notice here that this consolation uses 2) in opposition to 1). What you did was violate 1) by lying about some fact, but what your significant other is saying (assuming he/she is truthful in her statement) that you are not that action, appealing to 2), which says that your overall character, proven in many many actions, is what is true about you. I see no reason why 2) isn’t just as valid, if not more so, than 1). Basically, your significant other has tallied up your actions in the past and sees that as a cohesive set of truths that characterizes you, diminishing the potency of this one failure (lying).
Now this same type of process occurs all the time when someone speaks of someone else as “a good girl or gal.” Clearly, all have done some evil in their life; thus 2) is being used when the statement that someone is good is issued. These theories of truth pertain to the discussion about the infallibility of Scripture, especially the Gospels.
We get disturbed when 1) is violated because we are so prone to just assume that truth has only one emphasis, but this seems potently at odds with the fact that God is Trinity. We think this mainly because we understand that the original writer (John, Peter, Paul, or what have you) to have written just one manuscript in just one certain way, allowing for no variation by later leading by the Spirit. And if there is any doubt that the Spirit does lead different authors to describe the same event with various foci and presentation, look at the four Gospels, which describe many of the same events but with differences of focus and presentational order. Can the Spirit inspire different men to present the life of Christ (one life lived in a specific way) in differing fashions? The answer to this better be yes no matter who you are if a viable theory of inspiration is going to be able to be maintained. Notice, too, that the inspiration of the OT books requires an original speaking or writing with later adaptation to those original speaking events or writing. Most of the Prophets, for instance, are giving oracles, not writing Books as we have those today that bear their names. Are the prophets responsible for writing down their own sermons? Maybe, but who can say. In the Pentateuch, the first five books of the OT, the reference is made, “from Dan to Beersheba,” before Israel settles those lands and gives those names to those places. Clearly, a later editor has written in these names that could not be known to the original human author at that time, unless of course we just claim that God imparted knowledge to the writer to know those places and what the names of those places represent. This is too easy, however, and goes against the non-prophetic nature of those passages of Scripture (violating the context). Sure, we can claim God just told them, but this does little to satisfy the mind’s desire for an understandable and explainable theory of OT inspiration. Instead, we should formulate a theory of OT inspiration that is “gritty,” so to speak,” that accounts for the human process of knowing things, that is, through partial knowledge growing ever more complete. Such a theory will emphasize the preservational work of the Spirit as much as His original inspiring of the OT books. Moreover, we humans use the tri-dimensional emphases about truth noted above, so shouldn’t we see all three of those emphases in books written by men? Moreover, since God is Trinity, there is a place for such differing emphasis in understanding truth since God the Father is the truth, God the Son is the truth, and God the Spirit is the truth, although Each emphasize difference aspects of God who is the Truth. I’ve offered enough to think on here.
Til next time, Dr. Scalise